By James D. Campbell
This round-robin exhibition featured powerful and evocative images of the original site of the recently abandoned Royal Victoria Hospital. Eleven Montreal artists were invited by the RBC Art and Heritage Centre of the McGill University Health Centre to tour the original site. It had been vacant since the hospital moved to the new Glen site in 2015, and they were asked to choose locations to photograph. Accompanied by Dr. Jonathan Meakins, director of the Art and Heritage Centre (and former director of surgery at the Royal Victoria, the MUHC, and then Oxford University), and Alexandra Kirsh, the centre’s curator, the photographers extensively toured the abandoned complex for surrounds that moved or inspired them. There were two tours, both chaperoned by the curator: one to give them a sense of the panoply of views available; the second, to take the photographs. The result of these walking tours, on-site research, and maverick artistic vision is a captivating group of eleven images, yielding vastly different views of the empty hospital, by noted artists Raymonde April, Michel Campeau, Serge Clément, Luc Courchesne, Yan Giguère, Angela Grauerholz, Marie-Jeanne Musiol, Roberto Pellegrinuzzi, Yann Pocreau, Gabor Szilasi, and Chih-Chien Wang.
April’s Detail of a Window, Royal Victoria Hospital (2017) is a classically Aprilian image, if you will, in that, among the sheer multiplicity of places and purviews, she chose a window as both focus and threshold – a window that admits light – albeit in a state of some apparent disrepair, like organic things themselves. April always focuses on the “hard facts” of our existence – whether in the inner city, here in the hospital, or in the countryside – and yet she always evokes something numinous before and after those facts. This image suggests a sense of lateral and vertical compression akin to Hans Holbein’s Dead Christ (1521). The poiesis that we find in all her work, her openness to the world, is meaningfully reprised here.
Campeau’s Baby Philomène Royal (1991–2017) (2017) is a collage built around the image of a baby born in 1991. The surrounding images feature stainless-steel surfaces, and there is another that is perhaps an anomaly scan, a detailed ultrasound image that depicts the baby’s body and observes the position of the placenta, umbilical cord, amniotic fluid, uterus, and cervix. The crying baby in the lower quadrant is sandwiched between the images of stainless-steel walls as though in the close embrace of a technology that presses in from all sides, the harsh metal contrasting with the newborn’s flesh like an alien armature designed to protect it…
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